Pius XII on the Missing Red Lamp of the Real Presence

I don’t know about you, but since I’ve become Catholic, I have been alarmed by the “dislocation” of the Holy Eucharist within Catholic churches. Sometimes I go into a church and I can’t find the tabernacle. It’s scandalous and heartbreaking. Why must He be hidden? “Where have they taken Him?”

I recently came across this quote from Eugene Cardinal Pacelli in 1931, the future Pope Pius XII. It’s profoundly prophetic and worth quoting and full:

“I am worried by the Blessed Virgin’s messages to Lucy of Fatima. This persistence of Mary about the dangers which menace the Church is a Divine warning against the suicide of altering the Faith, in Her liturgy, Her theology and Her soul…I hear all around me innovators who wish to dismantle the Sacred Chapel, destroy the universal flame of the true Faith of the Church, reject Her ornaments and make Her feel remorse for Her historical past.”

“A day will come when the civilized world will deny its God, when the Church will doubt as Peter doubted. She will be tempted to believe that man has become God. In our churches, Christians will search in vain for the red lamp where God awaits them. Like Mary Magdalene, weeping before the empty tomb, they will ask, ‘Where have they taken Him?’”

Wow. Very powerful words. “A day will come when…Christians will search in vain for the red lamp where God awaits them.”

If we claim to have Jesus at the center of hearts, isn’t it time we made sure that He is at the center of our churches? Return the tabernacles to the high altars!

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!

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  • mpjr

    Thank you. Your fine post brought to mind the end of Brideshead Revisited. Charles, also a convert, experiences the peace that passes all understanding:

    “Something quite remote from anything the builders intended has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time: a small red flame — a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.”

    Thus, we have the key to Chesterton’s happy warrior, as expressed by Tolkien:

    “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ – though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.”
     

  • Warren Anderson

    At a parish I formerly (and happily) attended, the tabernacle is inset centre in a simple reredos behind a free standing altar. I know a couple priests who were uncomfortable celebrating mass with their back to the tabernacle, i.e., the reserved sacrament. However, it is a blessing to be able to immediately locate the Real Presence, genuflect toward the Lord and venerate His altar in one fluid and reverent motion and continue to focus on the Real Presence in the tabernacle when kneeling in the pew. With the crucifix above the tabernacle and the altar aligned, it is easy to see the connection between the Mass and Calvary and the Institution of the first Eucharist. Blessed symmetry.

    By contrast, at another local parish which recently renovated (wreckovated), the Blessed Sacrament Chapel is placed near the entrance to the nave, in what is barely a narthex, and one is almost forced to rush past the tabernacle. Most people do not pause before the Blessed Sacrament. In effect, the priest responsible has made it easier for people to dismiss belief in the Real Presence. There is no red lamp in the sanctuary. One might as well be in a protestant church. Centuries of meaning has been undone in a near instant by ill-informed and illformed priests and liturgical committees.

    Restore the tabernacle to its rightful prominence and thus achieve a powerful and necessary catechesis.

  • Kindred Spirit

    I pray that your post will be widely read in the Vatican, Taylor. You have put your finger directly on the problem and we must pray for the Holy Father to address it.

  • Andrew C

    How did I know that when you started attending Latin Mass parishes that suddenly these posts would slowly become like this.

    Remember.  The Holocaust did happened.

    Just joking.

    But seriously, it is sad that tabernacles are disappearing (if indeed they are, I haven’t seen any), but of course whether he is off to the side, or in the high altar, all that matters is that Christ is present.

  • Bruce in Kansas

    @ David in Chicago

    Interesting examples of basillicas and cathedrals where the tabernacle is kept in a separate chapel and I guess there’s a fascinating historical reason, but you left that part out.

    Taylor wrote, “Sometimes I go into a church and I can’t find the tabernacle.” I have experienced this as well. Now, if the tabernacle is in its own Blessed Sacrament Chapel, he’s not talking about that. He’s talking about not being able to find the tabernacle.

    Given the widely observable casualness with which the modern faithful approach the Eucharist, a call to return tabernacles to the center of our churches – the high altar – seems reasonable enough. 

    Was this post ranting against those cases where the taabernacle is in its own chapel?  If so, I missed it. I re-read the piece and still don’t get your take on it.

    Accusing a brother of being facile and histrionic is tough to read. It’s tougher when he didn’t seem to say what you are reacting to.

    It seems to me you missed his point and took offense where none was intended.

  • Anthony

    Taylor, can you share with us the source of the quote?

    re: the Tolkien quote. Why should Catholics view history as a long defeat? 

    • P KC

      Because the Apocalyptic end is messy. Listen to Our Lady’s warnings and read Isaiah 24 (the little apocalypse). This world will be destroyed before another one replaces it to the glory of our triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  • Charles

    Not finding the tabernacle in a church could be a blessing when you enter only to hear the roar of many dozens of bull sessions before Mass. But the sacristy lamp is lit, the tabernacle is where it ought to be. The only thing missing is the awe, reverence, & worship due HIM in HIS own house.

  • susanna

    I don’t care that the tabernacle has been in other places in cathedrals, etc.  I, and many others who grew up Catholic in this country, found the tabernacle in the center of the main altar of our churches, and it is very disturbing to enter a church now and have to hunt for it.   Bring it back front and center please.  Awesome quote from Pius XII. 

  • Sheila

    Charles, I couldn’t agree more.  I have approached two priests at two different churches commenting on the lack of reverence for Our Lord with all the talking and socializing going on.  One priest was very kind and said he would try to do something about it.  I have not been back there, so don’t know.  My parish pastor put a tiny little blurb in the bulletin to respect people who wish to pray before and after Mass.  Guess what?  Absolutely no improvement.  It breaks my heart to see this.  I have since decided on the only possible thing I can do – I arrive at church exactly as Mass begins.  Why go earlier to pray, I can’t pray anyway.  Even dirty little looks in the direction of the conversations seems to do absolutely nothing.  No wonder Our Lord and his Mother are crying all over the world.

  • Roderick

    David@Chicago,
    I think the frustration being expressed by so many, with regard alternative placement of the tabernacle in their churches, is that in a good many cases the move was done solely for the sake of doing so.

    I do not have the Vatican II documents in front of me. But what I do remember from that section, dealing with the this topic, was an honest desire to bring greater focus upon the sacrificial action of the Mass -and, right or wrong, the Blessed Sacrament, held in reserve and on the Altar of sacrifice or within view, was seen to perhaps confuse the faithful (I think this is a stretch, but again, I don’t have the documents in front of me).

    The ideal is that the Blessed Sacrament should be housed in its own building, its own chapel. This would prove financially difficult for most if not all parishes, even wealthy parishes would have difficulty dedicating the space alone on parish property.

    The second option would be to move the tabernacle to another location within the church. But here the documents are clear; the Blessed Sacrament is to be given “… pride of place” (to me this still means the center of the church). This does not, to the best of my understanding -and I believe this is where most everyone else’s frustration stems- means it should be so hidden that you actually have to search it out.

    I think some parishes have taken the letter, and not the spirit, too literally. I have seen examples where there are chapels on either side of the main altar, but still in the sanctuary. However the decision was made to place the tabernacle in a side chapel, down a side aisle -nearly hidden. The Blessed Sacrament was removed from the close proximity of the Altar of Sacrifice ….but it was not afforded even the slightest notion of “pride of place”.

    I want to end on a positive note.

    One of the very best redesigns I have seen to date is the Cathedral in Salt Lake City, UT. Granted, they had a very deep sanctuary to work with, but they brought the altar quite forward and built an open fretwork screen behind. The screen allows you to kind of see the tabernacle, which is still in the center. With the sanctuary moved forward, there is now a good size Blessed Sacrament Chapel behind the screen. The tabernacle sits on a stand and is surrounded by a number of kneelers (that took a bit for me to get use to, but it dose make sense) None of this fights with the Gothic design of the Cathedral.

    You can tell at once that a great deal of thought, and prayer, went into the design, all the while remembering that this is the Blessed Sacrament. It is in a scared place that is visited by the faithful and the stranger, those looking for God, outside of the Mass. How we treat and reverence and honor the Blessed Sacrament not only teaches our young, but it speaks volumes to our non-Catholic friends. 

    My own parish, Immaculate Heart of Mary, in Brentwood (northern CA) recently built a new parish church. The church is a bit of a modern twist on the Spanish mission style, and is built in the half round. Our tabernacle is visible in the church -in the center of the sanctuary. It actually sits in the Blessed Sacrament chapel, but is accessed during Mass by sliding a large glass door with angles on it.

    I think there is a general acceptance and acknowledgment in what has and has not worked.

  • Joe

    I hate to be a pessimist, but I don’t think the sacred places that have been destroyed by bad priests and bishops will be fixed any time soon.  Those who have insisted on hiding God under a bushel are hard core.  They’d rather die than follow any insistence on proper liturgical practices or take focus off of their Phil Donohue preaching tactics by placing Christ at the center.

    And I don’t think they are going to “die off”.  This bad element in the Church is here for a while as well.  At least until the bishops lose their fear of their duties as successors of the Apostles or give up their complicity with the Modernists.

  • M. Burns (Tiber Swim Team)

    Re: “A day will come when the civilized world will deny its God, when the Church will….be tempted to believe that man has become God.”

    This is exactly what the New Age Movement (NAM) is about. This is what so many ‘Catholic’ retreat centres, parishes, orders, etc. are promoting, (e.g., Fr. Thomas Keating and those associated with him). This – the NAM – is the (attempted) removal of the true God. The ousting of the red light is just a result.

    What are we prepared to do about it?

  • M. Burns (Tiber Swim Team)

    Re: “A day will come when the civilized world will deny its God, when the Church will….be tempted to believe that man has become God.”

    This is exactly what the New Age Movement (NAM) is about. This is what so many ‘Catholic’ retreat centres, parishes, orders, etc. are promoting, (e.g., Fr. Thomas Keating and those associated with him). This – the NAM – is the (attempted) removal of the true God. The ousting of the red light is just a result.

    What are we prepared to do about it?

  • M. Burns (Tiber Swim Team)

    Re: “A day will come when the civilized world will deny its God, when the Church will….be tempted to believe that man has become God.”

    This is exactly what the New Age Movement (NAM) is about. This is what so many ‘Catholic’ retreat centres, parishes, orders, etc. are promoting, (e.g., Fr. Thomas Keating and those associated with him). This – the NAM – is the (attempted) removal of the true God. The ousting of the red light is just a result.

    What are we prepared to do about it?

  • M. Burns (Tiber Swim Team)

    Re: “A day will come when the civilized world will deny its God, when the Church will….be tempted to believe that man has become God.”

    This is exactly what the New Age Movement (NAM) is about. This is what so many ‘Catholic’ retreat centres, parishes, orders, etc. are promoting, (e.g., Fr. Thomas Keating and those associated with him). This – the NAM – is the (attempted) removal of the true God. The ousting of the red light is just a result.

    What are we prepared to do about it?

  • M. Burns (Tiber Swim Team)

    Re: “A day will come when the civilized world will deny its God, when the Church will….be tempted to believe that man has become God.”

    This is exactly what the New Age Movement (NAM) is about. This is what so many ‘Catholic’ retreat centres, parishes, orders, etc. are promoting, (e.g., Fr. Thomas Keating and those associated with him). This – the NAM – is the (attempted) removal of the true God. The ousting of the red light is just a result.

    What are we prepared to do about it?

  • M. Burns (Tiber Swim Team)

    Re: “A day will come when the civilized world will deny its God, when the Church will….be tempted to believe that man has become God.”

    This is exactly what the New Age Movement (NAM) is about. This is what so many ‘Catholic’ retreat centres, parishes, orders, etc. are promoting, (e.g., Fr. Thomas Keating and those associated with him). This – the NAM – is the (attempted) removal of the true God. The ousting of the red light is just a result.

    What are we prepared to do about it?

  • Michael Sadowski

    “There is question not so much of the material presence of the tabernacle on the altar, as of a tendency to which we would like to call your attention, that of a lessening of esteem for the presence and action of Christ in the tabernacle.”
    “To separate tabernacle from altar is to separate two things which by their origin and nature should remain united.”
    –Pope Pius XII, in an address to a liturgical congress in Assisi in 1956.